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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley Named As Trump's Ambassador To The U.N.


President-elect Donald Trump has tapped South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Haley is one of the first women he's picked for a top-level position in his cabinet. She's the daughter of Indian immigrants. And she's popular in South Carolina, but she has little foreign policy experience. NPR's Michele Kelemen takes a closer look at the governor and what's ahead for her if she's confirmed for the job.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nikki Haley was critical of Trump on the campaign trail. The South Carolina governor called his early suggestion for a travel ban on Muslims a, quote, "embarrassment to the Republican Party." And when she gave the GOP response to President Obama's last State of the Union Address in January, she took a thinly veiled swipe at Trump, too, talking about her own family's immigrant experience.


NIKKI HALEY: During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

KELEMEN: If confirmed as U.N. ambassador, she'll have to ease international concerns about the incoming Trump administration, says one U.N. watcher, Richard Gowan of Columbia University.

RICHARD GOWAN: I believe that the Trump administration will be very tough on the U.N., especially on issues like climate change. But U.N. officials had feared that Trump might send a really angry old white guy like John Bolton back to the U.N. And Haley is clearly preferable to that.

KELEMEN: Bolton was a Bush administration official at the U.N. and has written op-eds recently calling for sweeping reforms. Gowan of Columbia University expects Haley to work with the new secretary general to streamline the U.N. bureaucracy, but Gowan worries about her lack of foreign policy experience.

GOWAN: And I worry that she doesn't probably have a grasp of some of the crises she's going to be facing in places like South Sudan and the Congo pretty much from day one in office. The U.N. is going through a very, very troubled period. A lot of its peacekeeping missions are under strain. There is going to be no time for the next U.N. ambassador to get up to speed on those issues.

KELEMEN: In his statement, Trump praised Haley as a proven dealmaker who has traveled abroad to negotiate with international companies on behalf of South Carolina. Trump's spokesman, Jason Miller, told reporters in his daily conference call that the president-elect was impressed by her in their meeting.


JASON MILLER: I think there is also a natural chemistry between the two when they met and started talking about their vision of how we wanted the United States represented on the world stage.

KELEMEN: Haley says she'll continue on as governor of South Carolina until she goes through the confirmation process. She thanked voters in her state for, in her words, taking a chance on a little-known minority female who was just 38 when she was elected.

Now in her mid-40s, she's been urging Trump in recent months to watch what he says and condemn white supremacy groups more forcefully. U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq says diplomats in New York like what they're hearing.

FARHAN HAQ: Including the laudable comments she made following the horrifying racist shootings in Charleston, S.C.

KELEMEN: He also says it's a good sign that the Trump administration is filling this job quickly, and it's keeping it as a cabinet-level post, which is unusual for a Republican administration. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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